Lalit Modi narrates how despondency over non-payment of a trifling sum of twenty rupees led him to start his CA practice.
My maiden job as an accounts assistant in a private organisation was rigorous but memorable, etched in my mind like a ‘sweet’ itch.The owner, whom I addressed reverentially as Babuji, was my classmate’s father. One day, he called me to meet him in his office. When he learnt that I was waiting for my final CA results and just lazing at home, he ordered me to join his family organisation which dealt in steel. Overawed by his presence and personality, I agreed to join the next day. He directed me to work as a subordinate of the ‘Lion,’ Guptaji, the loyal manager of the firm. Guptaji would work side by side with me,teaching me how to make complicated accounting entries, breathing over my neck while I struggled with the task, all the time waiting like a lion to pounce on me if I made a mistake. He was practical, dynamic, experienced, and down-to-earth. He was a taskmaster with an obsession for perfection.
Learning with the ‘Lion’
Honestly, I learnt a lot from him and consider him my guru. My CA training was no match for his BCom with experience. Sometimes, I had to work with him for extended hours till late in the night and beyond. The session used to begin at 9 a.m. and go on through the day and night till 3a.m., resume at 9 a.m. the same day, and go on like this for three or four days.
Such sessions would happen at least once in three months. I never complained as I was learning something new every time. The best part of the working relationship with Guptaji was that he worked together with me throughout the day and night, half the time talking about his daredevil experiences with
the tax and government departments. Hypnotised and mesmerised with his articulate renderings, I lapped up every word he spoke as though I was listening to a fairy tale. Undoubtedly, there was a learning in each episode he narrated.
Absence doesn’t pay
Once, after a long three day session and the tax deadline of June 30 achieved, I left for home in the early hours of the morning and hit the sack immediately. When I tried to get up by 8 a.m.to go to the office, the body was unwilling to cooperate, and I had a severe headache. When mom saw me struggling to get out of bed, it disturbed her. She expressed her displeasure at the job I had landed and felt that I should look for another job. Worried about my health, she advised me not to strain myself and rush to the office. Instead, she gently rebuked me that if the skies were not falling, I could take a longer respite and go to the office in the afternoon. For an overworked ‘coolie’ like me, this was the right encouragement to chill and go back into slumber without a care in the world. Erasing the stern Guptaji out of my system, I preferred to take a risk and absent myself from office without informing him. The subsequent sleep was sweet, and I woke up fresh and energised. I mentally thanked Mum for advocating this therapeutic rest. By 2 p.m., I was in Guptaji’s office apologising about my inability to attend office in the morning due to my poor physical condition. He brushed aside the lapse and asked me to take it easy and go ahead with my routine tasks. Relaxed, I went to my desk and weaved myself into the day-to-day pattern.
Five days later, the cashier handed me the pay cheque for the month’s worked. A sum of Rs. 20/- against the half day’s absence had been cut from my monthly remuneration of Rs. 1200/-. I did not get any compensation for the endless extra hours I worked for the organisation, nor did I even expect any for the extra services rendered. In fact, the thought had never occurred to me at all. The work gave me joy, and that was an adequate return for my loyal services. It was not the denial of the paltry sum of Rs. 20/- that gave me excruciating pain. It was the attitude of the management that hurt me. It was a proprietary concern and both the owner and the manager had the discretion to let go of the cut in pay for my half day’s absence in view of the endless extra hours spent by me for the organisation.
‘Humiliation’ wreaks mental havoc
My respect for Guptaji was intense, and I could not bring myself to raise the matter before him. At that point in time, I felt humiliated and insignificant. My self-esteem went for a toss. It affected my morale and killed my enthusiasm. I felt lonely and discarded. It mortified me to the core, and the bruise wouldn’t heal. By nature, I was sensitive and upright, and this being my first job in a private organisation, I did not realise that this was normal. I took it too personally.When I casually took up the subject with the owner’s son, he told me it was a policy matter. I went back to my desk, thoughtful and unconvinced. How can there be a policy with no human consideration? I mused whether managements drafted policies only from their point of view while ignoring the feelings and situation of the workforce. I still wonder if such sensibilities churning in my being were an offshoot of my rustic naivety then.
A lot of churning went on in my mind after this episode. Mature and immature thoughts flooded the chambers of my mind, just for the sake of the paltry twenty rupees. To stress the point once again, it was not the loss of the twenty rupees that bothered me but the principles underlying the decision of the management. Then, for the first time, I felt I was at the crossroads. I wondered whether there was any future for me in this organisation. This prompted me to send my resumes to various companies in search of greener pastures. Interview letters started coming. Obviously, I needed time to prepare for the interviews and attend them. The time had come for me to quit.
Babuji makes a great offer
Garnering tremendous courage, I approached Babuji. Nervous but determined, I politely requested him to relieve me from the job. I did not tell him what triggered this reaction. Taken aback, he asked me why I wanted to leave. He also enquired if I was looking for a better job with higher pay. When I did not respond, he sought to know if the pay was inadequate. Without waiting for my reply, he opined that he was fully satisfied with my work and offered to double my pay. When, again, I did not answer, he admitted that CAs were in demand and that he could even treble the pay. I developed cold feet while the twenty rupee note made me uncompromising. Babuji was a shrewd businessman and told me to decide my remuneration and draft an appointment letter with terms and conditions that suited me. He agreed to sign on the dotted line. I was at a loss to respond to him adequately. Reading my thoughts, he bellowed, “Sonny, even after this offer, if I discover later that you are looking for another job, I will gatecrash your house and drag you back to my office. I know your parents will not object.”
A lie provides means of escape
Overwhelmed by his faith and affection, I shook like a jelly. How did this septuagenarian read my thoughts? He demanded an answer. I was in a big dilemma. Like a fish trapped in a net, I groped for a way out. I searched my brain, heart, and soul to offer me an escape route. Babuji prodded further and spontaneously the words “I wish to start a private professional practice” escaped my lips! How these words stumbled out of my mouth, I know not. It was a blatant lie that gushed out of my being to escape from the place where I was feeling suffocated. By no stretch of the imagination was I fit for professional practice. I was too naïve and ignorant about the nitty-gritty of professional practice. I knew very well that my half-baked knowledge was most inadequate to enable me to plunge into professional practice. But the fictional power of my mind gushed out impulsively and shamelessly just to help me get relieved immediately.
Babuji’s warm response
On hearing my decision, Babuji warmed up immediately. His eyes softened. Looking at me with renewed respect, he said, “I admire your decision to start a private professional practice. If you were going for another job, I would take the liberty to stop you. I am an entrepreneur. I will, in fact, encourage you to go ahead rather than place obstacles in your progress, though I would have been happy to have you with us. In the light of your revelation, I can only bless you and wish you all success in your proposed venture. You can leave whenever you wish.” Babuji’s warmth, love, and affection touched me deeply, and I was close to tears. “Are you so impressed with my work, Babuji?” I ventured to ask. “Son, you would have been an enormous asset to my organisation. That is why I made this open offer.” My next rejoinder amused him. “In that case, Babuji, why don’t you make me your auditor, to begin with?” Hearing my words, he became serious and, peering into my eyes, said, “When the time comes, I will definitely do that. This is my word of honour.” With tears in my eyes, I touched his feet, secured his blessings, and left his chamber with a heavy heart. I left the same day. But I felt free as a bird. When I informed Guptaji of my decision, he hugged me and blessed me from the core of his soul.
Guilt takes its toll
The same night, my eyes fell on the two interview letters lying on my desk. One interview was slated three days later at Hyderabad and another one, a week later at Bangalore. I hardly read a sentence, when Babuji’s visage appeared on the face of the letter. There was a kindly smile on his face. It immediately reminded me of the blatant lie I had told him just to wriggle out of his organisation. So assertively, I had conveyed my fabricated intention to start professional practice and not go for a job! It made me feel downright guilty. It disturbed the very core of my being. My conscience rebuked me. My self-esteem went for a toss, and my self-respect dived deep. I started sweating on that pleasant night. I was too sensitive a guy to carry the baggage of that untruth on my conscience for the rest of my life. In good faith, Babuji had left the determination of my pay to me. How can I hurt that septuagenarian with my falsehood? He wished me well when I left his chamber. My conscience tortured me. I tried to go to bed early with a book. I could not read a single word. Leaving it aside, I tried to sleep. My inner voice did not allow me to sleep. A restless night continued into a new dawn and a new day.
Truth and kindness pave the way
We have a wonderful beach in Pondicherry. To perk myself up, I set off for a walk on the beach. I had hardly walked a hundred metres on the beach and, lo and behold, who do I see sitting calmly on a bench just below a towering Gandhi statue? It was the lovable and dignified Babuji attired in his spotless dhoti with his walking stick tucked under his arms. I ran towards him, greeted him, and touched his feet. He blessed me and, looking deeply into my eyes, said, “If you need any help to establish your new venture, call on me. My blessings are with you.” I nodded but struggled to stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. I looked up and my eyes fell on the face of the majestic statue of Gandhiji looking down on me. Abruptly, I turned towards Babuji and noticed the stark resemblance between their features. I got sandwiched between Babuji, the epitome of kindness, and Gandhiji, the epitome of truth. Gandhiji, the embodiment of truth, seemed to be glaring at me for my lie and deception. He made me conscious of the perjury I had committed before Babuji the previous day. It stuck out like a sore thumb amid the glorious sunrise on the beach. The signals and signs were crystal clear. My ‘experiment with truth’ took its first tiny step forward.
Babuji and Gandhiji sparked the turning point of my life. In atonement for the misdirecting misrepresentation, I took a mental wow to transform my untruth into truth. Instantaneously, I took a wow to pursue a professional practice, come what may. I transformed my fabricated fiction into a tacit truth, giving unlimited solace and peace to my disturbed soul. Bidding farewell to Babuji and thanking Gandhiji for this golden opportunity to make amends, I hit the road with more energy, devoid of guilt. There was an exceptional spring in my steps. Reaching home, I quietly tore the interview letters and gave them a tearful farewell. My exit gave way to another deserving candidate who needed the job more badly than me. This was the best way I could manifest my heartfelt redemption for the white lie blurted out by me during the stressful dialogue with Babuji. It was retribution of sorts that extinguished the flames of self-loathing rather than stir them up.
Breaking out of my comfort zone, I began my professional practice in a 12x14 room offered to me by a kind friend in the middle of the busiest street of Pondicherry. I invited Babuji to inaugurate my tiny office. The ordeal I had to go through to begin practice and sustain myself in a cut-throat competitive environment is fodder for another piece. God willing, I propose to unfold my professional rise in my next narrative. The Divine has been kind. Thanks to Babuji and Gandhiji, today, I am into the 37th year of my very successful profession. An employee transformed into an employer, and a blunder was redeemed. The journey from untruth to truth ended happily.
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